The Story of Mankind (1957)

99-100 mins | Comedy-drama | 9 November 1957

Director:

Irwin Allen

Producer:

Irwin Allen

Cinematographer:

Nicholas Musuraca

Editor:

Gene Palmer

Production Designer:

Art Loel

Production Company:

Cambridge Productions
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HISTORY

The film concludes with the High Judge looking into the camera and saying, “The choice is entirely up to you.” As noted in the Var review, the first fifty-five seconds of the opening credits show twenty-five successive above-title cast names. Although forty-nine actors are credited in the opening sequence, only the twenty-four names appearing below the title appear in alphabetical order. According to a Nov 1956 HR news item, Warner Bros. had considered alphabetizing all names except for Ronald Colman, who would receive top billing. The opening literary credit reads: "Based on the classic by Hendrik van Loon."
       After the opening credits, voice-over narration by Colman begins, “Once upon the time there were two angels...,” followed by narration by two other actors, who portray the voices of angels. In the scenes depicting the proceedings of the High Tribunal of Outer Space, judges sit behind tall podiums in front of a semi-circle of seated, unnamed characters dressed in various historical costumes. The set is grounded in fog and the background is a deep blue. As noted in a Nov 1956 LAT article, the “mankind on trial” portion of the film was a “gimmick” added for the film and not present in Hendrik Van Loon’s original novel. According to the article, producer-director-writer Irwin Allen planned to end the film without revealing the High Tribune’s decision, then flash a written question onscreen, “Is this the end?”
       Interspersed with trial scenes are sequences depicting historical events on Earth. As noted in the Var and MPH reviews, color footage from several old Warner Bros. films was used ... More Less

The film concludes with the High Judge looking into the camera and saying, “The choice is entirely up to you.” As noted in the Var review, the first fifty-five seconds of the opening credits show twenty-five successive above-title cast names. Although forty-nine actors are credited in the opening sequence, only the twenty-four names appearing below the title appear in alphabetical order. According to a Nov 1956 HR news item, Warner Bros. had considered alphabetizing all names except for Ronald Colman, who would receive top billing. The opening literary credit reads: "Based on the classic by Hendrik van Loon."
       After the opening credits, voice-over narration by Colman begins, “Once upon the time there were two angels...,” followed by narration by two other actors, who portray the voices of angels. In the scenes depicting the proceedings of the High Tribunal of Outer Space, judges sit behind tall podiums in front of a semi-circle of seated, unnamed characters dressed in various historical costumes. The set is grounded in fog and the background is a deep blue. As noted in a Nov 1956 LAT article, the “mankind on trial” portion of the film was a “gimmick” added for the film and not present in Hendrik Van Loon’s original novel. According to the article, producer-director-writer Irwin Allen planned to end the film without revealing the High Tribune’s decision, then flash a written question onscreen, “Is this the end?”
       Interspersed with trial scenes are sequences depicting historical events on Earth. As noted in the Var and MPH reviews, color footage from several old Warner Bros. films was used for many of the Earth sequences, among them, the 1954 King Richard and the Crusaders (See Entry) and the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood (see above). According to a Mar 1957 NYHT article, the Land of the Pharaohs footage used in The Story of Mankind was cut from the original film. The article added that portions of 1950 Victor Fleming production Joan of Arc (see above) also appeared in The Story of Mankind . Although most of the historical footage was taken from Warner Bros. productions, two films, Forever Amber (1947) and Drums Along the Mohawk (1939, see above for both) were produced by Twentieth Century-Fox. Other films from which historical scenes were taken, according to modern sources, were Helen of Troy , The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex , Captain Horatio Hornblower , Dodge City , San Antonio , The Command and Gold Is Where You Find It . A Mar 1957 HR news item reported that the Pearl Harbor sequence featured previously unexhibited footage taken by Hawaiian businessman Robert T. Loring.
       In reviews and in the copyright record, actor Leonard Mudie’s name is erroneously spelled “Mudi.” Although an Oct 1956 HR news item reported that Diana Lynn was cast, she was not in the released film. A Nov 1956 HR news item reported that Yvonne DeCarlo , who was originally cast as Cleopatra, withdrew from the film due to overlapping commitments and was replaced by Virginia Mayo. Ten-year-old Melinda Marx, who portrayed an early Christian child, was the daughter of Groucho Marx, who portrayed "Peter Minuit." Austin Green, who portrayed “Abraham Lincoln,” was a weatherman for KNTX-TV. Jim Ameche, who portrayed "Alexander Graham Bell," was the brother of Don Ameche, who portrayed the inventor in the popular 1939 film, The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (see above).
       The Story of Mankind marked the final film of longtime star Colman and Franklin Pangborn, both of whom died in 1958. The picture also marked the last joint screen appearance of Groucho, Harpo and Chico Marx, although they played only cameo roles. Their last film appearance as a team was the 1950 United Artists' release Love Happy . A 6 Dec 1956 HR news item reported that the rough cut of the film was five hours, which Allen planned to trim by two to three hours. According to a 19 Dec 1956 HR news item, Dennis Hopper completed additional scenes after the principal photography to expand his role of “Napoleon” by four minutes.
       Regarding the central question of the film, i.e., whether man’s good nature outweighs his bad, the film’s reviewers were more definite than the High Tribunal. The Var review remarked: “In the dreary cataloguing of man’s crimes against humanity, the Devil makes a much better case.” Agreeing, the MPH reviewer wrote, “Much of what is good [about man] is only talked about, never shown, and the devil’s disciples appear to have a ringing victory.” Several reviews found that the script’s occasional treatment of historical events with humor made the film feel uneven.
       Jun 1953 DV and HR news items reported that Bernard Foyer had acquired the rights to make several feature films and a color telefilm series of Van Loon’s The Story of Mankind , which had been translated into twenty-nine languages. The DV news item announced that Ferde Grofe would compose the score and that the film would be shot in Eastman Color. Although the HR news item stated that filming would begin in Aug, no other information about those projects were found. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
26 Oct 1957.
---
Daily Variety
9 Jun 1953.
---
Daily Variety
23 Oct 57
p. 3.
Film Daily
23 Oct 57
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jun 1953.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Nov 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Nov 1956
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Nov 1956
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Nov 1956.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Dec 1956
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Dec 1956
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Dec 1956.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Mar 1957
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Oct 57
p. 3.
Los Angeles Examiner
14 Nov 1957.
---
Los Angeles Times
18 Nov 1956
Part V, p. 2.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
26 Oct 57
p. 577.
New York Herald Tribune
10 Mar 1957.
---
New York Times
9 Nov 57
p. 31.
New Yorker
16 Nov 1954.
---
Newsweek
18 Nov 1957.
---
Variety
23 Oct 57
p. 6.
Variety
11 Dec 1957.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Cambridge Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Supv film ed
Film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
Mus ed
Mus ed
SOUND
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
PRODUCTION MISC
Research
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Story of Man by Hendrik Van Loon (New York, 1921).
DETAILS
Release Date:
9 November 1957
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 8 November 1957
Production Date:
12 November--late December 1956
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
19 November 1957
Copyright Number:
LP12921
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound Recording
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Duration(in mins):
99-100
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
18389
SYNOPSIS

Two angels, appearing as stars in the heavens, discuss how man has invented the super H-bomb sixty years ahead of schedule. Noting that all of mankind will be destroyed if the bomb is detonated, the stars report the news to the High Tribunal of Outer Space, which is then called into session. Their agenda is to determine whether to prevent the bomb from detonating or allow it to go off. To present a defense, the Spirit of Man is called and The Devil, Mr. Scratch, who arrives with his apprentice, is appointed prosecutor of the case. The High Judge instructs Man and Scratch to visit any time or place on Earth to present supporting evidence, adding that their travels will be watched by the tribunal. Man begins by showing how humans developed from solitary animals to communities of people who harnessed fire and developed the wheel. Arguing that man’s downfall began almost immediately, Scratch presents as evidence Khufu, an ancient pharaoh of Egypt who sacrificed 100,000 men to build his pyramid of immortality. Scratch proposes that Khufu succeeded in betraying his people because men, in their stupidity, worship villains as heroes. While conceding the point, Man reminds Scratch that the reverse is also true, that men cannot be great and good unless given the support of his fellows. As an example, he presents Moses, who, at around the same time, led his people to freedom and gave them the Ten Commandments, which he received from God. Scratch reminds him that the Commandments were soon broken and that war, rape and villainy continued, as shown in the story of Helen ... +


Two angels, appearing as stars in the heavens, discuss how man has invented the super H-bomb sixty years ahead of schedule. Noting that all of mankind will be destroyed if the bomb is detonated, the stars report the news to the High Tribunal of Outer Space, which is then called into session. Their agenda is to determine whether to prevent the bomb from detonating or allow it to go off. To present a defense, the Spirit of Man is called and The Devil, Mr. Scratch, who arrives with his apprentice, is appointed prosecutor of the case. The High Judge instructs Man and Scratch to visit any time or place on Earth to present supporting evidence, adding that their travels will be watched by the tribunal. Man begins by showing how humans developed from solitary animals to communities of people who harnessed fire and developed the wheel. Arguing that man’s downfall began almost immediately, Scratch presents as evidence Khufu, an ancient pharaoh of Egypt who sacrificed 100,000 men to build his pyramid of immortality. Scratch proposes that Khufu succeeded in betraying his people because men, in their stupidity, worship villains as heroes. While conceding the point, Man reminds Scratch that the reverse is also true, that men cannot be great and good unless given the support of his fellows. As an example, he presents Moses, who, at around the same time, led his people to freedom and gave them the Ten Commandments, which he received from God. Scratch reminds him that the Commandments were soon broken and that war, rape and villainy continued, as shown in the story of Helen of Troy, in which thousands of men died fighting for her. Noting that myth and history are sometimes so intertwined that one cannot tell the difference, Man takes The Devil to the Golden Age of Greece, where Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, sculptors and the early astronomers elevated man’s thinking to a new level, and there introduces the father of medicine, Hippocrates, whose oath is still held inviolate by physicians. In counterpoint, Scratch presents Cleopatra, who poisoned her brother, took advantage of Julius Caesar and betrayed Marc Antony before committing suicide. About his favorite subject, the depraved lunatic Nero who raved as Rome burned, Scratch claims that Romans were content to allow Nero's abuse of power. Man, however, disagrees, arguing that the people were not happy, and to prove it, shows early Christian martyrs praying as Roman soldiers arrest them and take them to their death. Despite the brutal times, Man says, a “new hope had come.” Scratch then presents Attila the Hun, whose army swept across the world, trampling learning and faith. Showing King John’s signing of the Magna Carta and the legend of King Arthur, Man says that civilization survived the brutality and that faith was not forgotten. Claiming that the treatment of Joan of Arc disproves Man’s point, Scratch indicts the whole Middle Ages, but Man rebuts that the era gave rise to the Renaissance, a new age of thought, and Leonardo da Vinci, a symbol of the time whom others followed. Although The Devil asserts that some of da Vinci’s inventions were forerunners of mighty weapons of war, Man argues that the peaceful da Vinci’s work influenced Columbus’ discovery of a route to the New World. Gleefully, Scratch tells the court how Cortez, another New World explorer, slaughtered the Aztec civilization and how Spain tried to rule and terrorize the seas. Man shows that Elizabeth I of England, inspired by the works of her contemporary, Shakespeare, stood up against the Spanish Armada and freed the seas from Spanish domination. While on the subject of the New World, Scratch reports that Peter Inuit cheated Indians out of Manhattan Island, the new colonies allowed slavery, people were hung as witches in Salem, and New World tobacco was introduced to the Old World by Sir Walter Raleigh. In England and Europe, unsanitary conditions led to a plague that was finally conquered by devastating fire. Undeterred, Man shows advances and discoveries in science, medicine and governance, among them Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity and the American founding fathers building a nation based on the premise that all men are created equal. Presenting Marie Antoinette and Napoleon as witnesses, The Devil argues that greed and lust for power continued and exhibits the Indian Wars, land grabbing and gold fever in America. While discussing the many wars on both continents, Scratch points to the American Civil War, but Man replies that the war resulted in Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Man continues by noting the works of musicians and inventors, but, unimpressed, Scratch presents the evidence of World War I, the rise of Adolf Hitler and finally, World War II. When the final session of the High Tribunal of Outer Space is called to order, the High Judge warns that time is running out, as the explosion will soon occur, and asks for summations so that the judges will have time to reach a verdict. Directing himself to the judges, Man says that humans have often been misled by followers of Scratch, but they have survived and redirected themselves. He calls on one last witness, the Man of Tomorrow, who is a young child, and argues that, if there is no tomorrow, the past will have no meaning. The Devil asks the court to look closely at the child’s toys, a gun and a sword, for an indication of the future. However, Man demonstrates that the gun plays music when “fired” and that the sword is only a pencil box. Placing the Bible on exhibit, he reads, “For him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward,” and rests his case. After conferring, the judges conclude that man’s good is equal to his evil, and so decide to reserve judgment for a future date. Man’s destruction has been postponed, says the High Judge, but the court shall soon reconvene. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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